State Rep. Peter Kocot urges tax reform at Northampton forum
NORTHAMPTON — On the last official night of winter, Rep. Peter Kocot, D-Northampton, delivered a blunt message to about 150 people attending a forum on tax reform.
“I am going to vote to raise your taxes,” he said.
But, he added, “I would not vote to raise your taxes unless it was absolutely necessary.”
What makes that increase necessary, in Kocot’s view, is the perennial struggle for cities and towns throughout the state to adequately fund their respective municipal budgets.
The forum at JFK Middle School focused on a bill co-sponsored by Kocot that, if passed, could raise $1.37 billion in new revenue to help cities and towns pay for their municipal services, schools and health care costs.
The bill, An Act to Invest in Our Communities, also known as HB 2553, would raise the state income tax rate from 5.25 to 5.95 percent, but would spare middle-class families the brunt of the increase by raising the personal exemption.
It would also raise the tax rate on investors, but allow an exemption for middle-class senior citizens.
If done in a timely fashion, Kocot said, the bill could soften the blow to city and town budgets in the coming fiscal year.
Kocot said a crucial step in getting cities and towns sufficient state aid is to change the funding formula.
Kocot said that is a challenge because many districts whose voters benefit the most from the formula are reluctant to approve a change.
Because of that reluctance, he said, it is important to create new means for cities and towns to generate revenue and rely less on state aid.
Ward 4 City Councilor Pamela Schwartz also spoke at the 90-minute forum. She said even if the bill passes in time for the coming fiscal year, it would not necessarily spare Northampton from having to make up to $2.4 million in cuts, including cuts to the school department.
“My guess is we’re not going to be able to stop the cuts without an override,” she said.
Schwartz said there is time to get an override on the ballot. She said a Proposition 2½ override is not ideal because it puts the burden of making up the shortfall on the shoulders of property owners.
State Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, and Rep. John Scibak, D-South Hadley, were scheduled to attend but were unable to, according to organizers of the forum.
The forum was sponsored by Yes!Northampton, the Northampton Democratic City Committee, Living Wage Western Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Nurses Association and Pioneer Valley Young Democrats.
Bob Dunn can be reached at email@example.com.